Monday, July 25, 2005

What's Cookin'?

You'd think I could get three entries in a blog without resorting to recipes. Of course, you’d also think that a town that is 6 miles from the ocean could produce a community cookbook that has at least a couple of decent seafood recipes in it. You’d think. You’d be, of course, sadly mistaken if the town you are thinking of is Toledo, Oregon, and the blog writer is Randy Wylde.

Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting my parents, who now reside in Hillsboro, some miles west of Portland. As mentioned previously, much of the week involved looking through Mom’s rather brilliant photo albums (Mom doesn’t read my blog, so this isn’t blatant kissing up, I promise. That isn’t to say that I’m not completely biased, however.) During this orgy of wistful reminiscence, Mom happened to mention that it is Toledo’s centennial this year, around which several centennial activities have been planned.

Probably the most terrifying to imagine is an “all-classes reunion” for the high school. Class years are meeting all over town (you wouldn’t think there would be enough buildings, but maybe some years are sharing locations). My class year is supposed to meet at the Elks Lodge, which I remember as being permanently smoky (I think they host a bingo night, which would explain that), but remembered fondly because both of the college scholarships I received interviewed me there. Not that I’m planning to go; I have limited vacation, and touching base with people I’ve spent 20 years comfortably forgetting just doesn’t feature as being worth the airfare and car rental. At least one of my two sisters is planning to attend, however. But then she’s become increasingly strange over the past few years.

I think she’s mainly looking forward to the all-classes cross-country fun run, which is the only thing I think is remotely appealing about the centennial event. However, having buried many toxic and oozing barrels of teen-aged lust in my heart and loins for several of my team mates on the cross-country team, I think it would feel a little weird to meet them as an out gay adult. As conversationally challenged as I usually am, I'd be terrified of what I might actually say. “Hey Mike, good to see you! You know, I was just remembering the other day how I used to peek surreptitiously up the leg of your shorts on bus trips! Damn you had hot legs, then!”

So, what does all this have to do with cooking? I’m surprised you remembered to ask. Or that you’re still reading and even care. Anyway. In conjunction with this centennial event, Toledo has produced a community cookbook commemorating the event. Now, Toledo is on a bay. A big one with a nice bridge. It's about 15 winding miles along the edge of the bay to the docks of Newport, or 6 relatively straight miles over Hwy 20 to the same destination. Newport has canneries. It has Trident Seafoods. You can go out on the docks and purchase live Dungeness crabs, fresh oysters, and whole salmon directly from the boats. It's about the only fucking thing I really miss about the area! You can live in the forest, watch the beauty of the ocean whenever you want, and you can eat fucking fresh fish and seafood!

Minnesota is about as far from either coast as you can get. I have really good fish, like, twice a year, if I'm lucky. It all has to fly in, and most of the time, fish arrives here jet lagged and irritable, slightly dehydrated, and smelling like it could use a good shower. It then hands you the bill for its plane flight, and you decide you'd rather make a pork roast.

In Toledo, however, they apparently have the same taste as my neighboring Midwesterners for whom fish comes out of a can or pouch, is promptly combined with mayonnaise, onion, and pickle relish, and spread on toast. Couple slices of Wisconsin cheddar and a brief blast under the broiler, and voila! The height of Midwestern seafood cookery: The Tuna Melt.

Six miles away from salmon so fresh you'd have to slap it AND wash its mouth out with soap, and how many recipes in this book use it? One. One recipe with salmon. From a can! Canned salmon! Inconceivable!

Cans and Jell-O feature to an alarming degree in this cookbook. It's appalling. What the hell are they thinking? If someone asks for my best, or my favorite recipe, you can bet I'm going to do a damn sight better than "5 Can Casserole." This is the best you can do? This is your favorite? If this is your favorite, how often do you eat it? One can of cream of chicken, one can of chicken noodle, one can of Chinese noodles, one can of tuna and one can of evaporated milk heated in the oven makes you happy? Are you insane? It sounds like a recipe for stage vomit! As for other recipes, well, four kinds of Jell-O diced into cubes and combined with whipped cream is NOT a cake, rainbow or otherwise. I know from both cakes and rainbows, and I'm certain of this. Oy.

I don't know whom to blame for this state of affairs. It makes no sense to me. The best I can do is offer a recipe as an antidote. Maryana Vollstedt is a wonderful Pacific coast cookbook writer. She is clearly not from Toledo. This recipe is basically hers, if I recall correctly, but I usually just wing it on a few of the measurements, and I'm too lazy to look it up for the exact measures. Mom made something like this while I was out to visit, and nirvana was achieved, albeit briefly. And that's better than nothing.

Pacific Sole

2-3 lbs of Petrale sole filets
½ cup filberts, toasted at 350 for about 20 minutes, and chopped.

Combine equal handfuls of flour and cornmeal. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika, about ½ tsp each. Or use your own judgement. Dredge sole filets. Saute over med-high heat in about 1 tsp of butter per filet, turning once, about 3 minutes per side, just until done. If you've got the temperature right, the fish should be just done when the outside gets lightly golden brown. For the love of Pete, please don't overcook it. Petrale sole is a magical, delicate, slightly sweet whitefish, whom God hath given as a gift. Treat it gently, and heaven shall be yours. Set filets on a warm serving dish.

Melt about 2 tablespoons of butter (not margarine, no. NO. I said, NO, dammit). Chop a good handful of parsley so you've got about a ¼ cup. Maybe a scallion, too, if you've got one. Add to the butter. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice, and a pinch of the grated zest. Add the chopped filberts. Stir it up, add salt and pepper as desired, and drizzle over filets. Serve it forth, with a brilliantly cold and steely chardonnay.

Five. Can. Casserole. Fuck, it makes me weep.

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